Apple’s Rumored Siri Speaker Targets Sonos, Too

2 minute read
| Analysis

All the reports of Apple’s rumored Siri Speaker have it targeting Alexa and Google Home, and at one level that makes sense. The Siri Speaker seems like it will be a voice-controlled device in your home that happens to be able to emit sound. But I think there’s a different target Apple’s going after: Sonos. Remember, this isn’t rumored to just be a voice-controlled device with a speaker thrown in for audio feedback. Reports peg this as a device which contains multiple, high-quality speakers. In early May, KGI Securities’ Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said:

We expect Apple’s first home AI product will have excellent acoustics performance (one woofer + seven tweeters) and computing power (similar to iPhone 6/6S AP).

Seven tweeters. Amazon’s Echo at US$179.99, by comparison, has one woofer and one tweeter, as does the $199 Sonos PLAY:1. Even Sonos’s Flagship PLAY:5 at $499 only has six speakers, though three of those are woofers (the remaining three are tweeters).

Yesterday’s report from Mark Gurman and Alex Webb writing at Bloomberg states:

The device will differ from Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home speakers by offering virtual surround sound technology […]

Virtual surround sound. This is starting to sound like the technology that Sonos has baked into its PLAYBASE and PLAYBAR (and, used a little differently, in the aforementioned PLAY:5, as well). Amazon and Google aren’t doing that with any of their current offerings.

Siri Speaker rendering from iFunnyVlogger on Twitter

Twitter User @iFunnyVlogger’s rendering of what the Siri Speaker might look like.

I would expect a device with seven tweeters to provide truly room-filling sound, perhaps from all angles given that each of those tweeters could be aimed in slightly different directions. This might be something that could pair with an Apple TV and not only play music but also play the audio for your TV shows and movies. The Siri Speaker may be more of a living room device than a kitchen device.

For additional support, let’s include this tidbit from the same Ming-Chi Kuo report:

[…] likely to be positioned for: (i) the high-end market; (ii) better entertainment experience; and (iii) higher price than Amazon Echo.

Better entertainment experience is something none of the existing voice-controlled home assistants seem to boast or even target. Given the popularity and functional usefulness of the $49 Amazon Echo Dot and its one, tiny speaker, it could easily be argued that the Alexa product line completely omits the I-care-about-sound-quality market (feel free to leave your “but Bluetooth!” comments below).

Given the reported Siri Speaker’s enhanced acoustics and higher price points I’m thinking this thing targets the Sonos market: people that care about audio quality. It could perhaps finally be the first device that truly competes with Sonos (again, feel free to leave your comments about Bose and Polk below… I’ve tried those systems, folks, and I stand by the previous sentence).

Sonos Killer?

I’ll stop well-short of applying the term “Sonos killer” here, though. Sonos already has excellent support for Apple Music and every other streaming platform available. I would be surprised if Apple’s Siri speaker did that upon launch, too, though it’s not outside the realm of possibilities. Remember, your iPhone supports this stuff, and if the reported Siri Speaker processor speed is even close to accurate, there’s no reason that this device couldn’t run apps to support third-party services just like the Apple TV does.

If Apple can truly release a high-quality speaker that is audibly-controlled and supports multiple music services including Apple Music, they would potentially have something very, very compelling to offer. Sonos is due to release their Alexa support later this year, but I’ve had a chance to approximate that with a hacked-together setup. Even with my hack’s imperfections, controlling music with one’s voice is true bliss and is most definitely the future of products like this.

Let’s just hope Siri doesn’t interpret “Play Stevie Wonder” as “Hey, this is a steaming blunder.

8 Comments Add a comment

  1. Andrush

    Hey Dave, you may be right to suggest that “Apple’s going after Sonos” but I have to say that the rest of your comments are rubbish. Are we talking about a mono BGM system or are we talking about 5.1 channel surround sound? Either way, there is a clear differentiation between streaming services and the number of tweeters in a speaker enclosure.

    “I would expect a device with seven tweeters to provide truly room-filling sound, perhaps from all angles given that each of those tweeters could be aimed in slightly different directions.”

    Say What ???

  2. CudaBoy

    Apple is incredible – the production of Toyota with the margins of Ferrari. No wonder Android is the most popular OS on the planet. This speaker Apple is throwing out here now allows them to make it obsolete in a year when they add the LED screen to it like the others. Mark me, it will happen. Save your pennies kiddies.

  3. jackster12

    Andrush, I don’t understand your criticism of the article. The original provided a quote from a source that says the speaker will have seven tweeters. And then deduced that would imply room-filling sound. What’s confusing about that? Not sure how that conflates with any discussion about streaming services.

    As for me, I was actually just hours away from biting the bullet and ordering three Sonos speakers. I’ve been a holdout not only because of the high cost but because I’d really like a system that works within the Apple eco-system (even though, I know, Sonos added Apple Music support a bit ago). So I’m grateful for the timing of this article.

    I’ll be holding out to see what gets unveiled.

  4. Andrush

    jackster12,

    I think the problem is that, if you don’t really understand what woofers and tweeters do, you shouldn’t be talking about them.

    If there is such a thing as “Apple’s rumored Siri Speaker”, which is by no means certain, then Dave could be right, it could be an alternative to the Sonos system. It could, but I don’t think so, for two reasons: 1. Apple’s “iPod Hi-Fi” speaker “is considered one of the classic Apple failures”; 2. Sonos does what it does very well, so why should Apple want to compete with that?

    Basically, speakers are devices for moving air, that mimic the air being moved by musical instruments and voices. If you want to fill a room with sound, you need to move a lot of air, which means big speakers. Tweeters, as their name implies, are small speakers that only reproduce high notes like a bird’s “tweets”. Having more of them will not fill a room.

    Incidentally, depending on your needs, I’m not sure if “three Sonos speakers” is the best solution. I have not listened to the PlayBase, but it’s one unit. I have used the PlayBar, in conjunction with the Sonos Sub (containing 2 woofers). Now that is two units, and it does indeed deliver “room filling sound” …..

  5. Andrush

    jackster12,

    On further thought about how Sonos’ surround sound works, I think I may have been misled by Dave’s use of terminology, equating “truly room-filling sound” with “Virtual surround sound”.

    However, since I posted I have seen two reports by John Gruber on Daring Fireball about this story. In the first, Gruber says the entire original report on Bloomberg is rubbish. In the second he says that Bloomberg’s story, as re-told by Dave “sounds like a great idea” ….. “Like Sonos but with really good AirPlay — ….. Sonos doesn’t support AirPlay”.

    So I agree, let’s all wait to see what, if anything, Apple unveils at the WWDC.

  6. Manqueman

    This sounds more like Apple than a Siri speaker that’s just another Google Home or not even an Alexa: When not being used to take orders (or hoover data like Google Home), it doubles as a music playback system. Does what the others do (more or less) and a whole lot more too.

  7. Brian Cashion

    This speaker Apple is throwing out here now allows them to make it obsolete in a year when they add the LED screen to it

    @CudaBoy Obsolete? When Apple releases the next version of this speaker, the first one will continue to work just as it did on the day you purchased it. It will be eligible for tech support. Just because it won’t have all the newest features doesn’t mean it’s obsolete.

    Besides, this is the way pretty much every product works. New ones come along and improve upon the old ones. You make it sound like Apple has some nefarious plan.

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